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Retreat to Enen- Demo Review
Meditate, get bitten by snakes- let's talk Retreat to Enen and connecting with nature.
Posted initially to Hashtag Survival on 6/22/2022- transferred 2/4/2023.
Retreat to Enen is a gorgeous game; you should play it. I spent hours fucking around in the Steam Next Fest demo and saw no red flags that would have me banging the drum warning you to STAY AWAY.
That being said. *inhale*
While the demo is a demo (IS A DEMO) and doesn’t contain every scrap of mechanic/content/info/fluff that the whole game will have at launch/throughout development- I feel like it did help solidify how I think about the vibe & gameplay: FOR ME. ME AS IT PERTAINS TO ME.
Oh FYI you're going to see that blip "for me how it feels for me, how I like it" A LOT.So don't try and do any of those "drink when he says FOR ME PERSONALLY" because you will probably pass out.
Retreat to Enen is a first-person, open-world, futuristic survival game where players can craft, base build, hunt, fish, meditate & explore. Rather than dropping us into a typical POST APOCALYPTIC ZOMBIE world, Enen goes entirely in the other direction. [Though we still get to this point by basically fucking up the world with strife/war/ignoring climate change. Sound familiar?] Your primary purpose, per developers, is as follows: “...every human who reaches adulthood is now tasked with learning how to become one with nature on the island of Enen. Retreat to Enen focuses on this rite of passage. Arrive at the legendary island to learn how to live in peaceful harmony with nature by surviving on your own, discovering the island’s secrets, and mastering the art of meditation.”
Spoiler- the game handles this premise beautifully. And that’s kind of how they lost me.
You start by popping out of your little trippy-futuristic-honeycombed-pale cerulean dome. And you begin the typical survival dance; explore, move around, eat stuff. A tutorial on the top left of the screen will prompt you to accomplish specific tasks- basically your typical “touch this, craft that, go here” setup. I found it all incredibly straightforward and largely unnecessary- I would have welcomed the ability to skip/toggle off the tutorial completely. For me, the allure of the survival genre is figuring shit out-hell even dying to it- as you puzzle out exactly how things function in this broken/remote/deadly world.
But the developers have said that they’ve added additional pop-ups, tutorial steps, and info to help folks along based on player feedback. They also mentioned that the demo is more challenging than the release will be...? So that’s a bit interesting. As someone who plays many survival games - and flat out prefers bushcraft-type survival- I feel like many of the issues/questions that people were posting to the Discord were often either fundamental survival game mechanics or (what I like to call) “common sense” survival questions.
If you’re in the Hashtag Survival Discord/have listened to the podcast, you’re familiar with the following, but in a nutshell, it often boils down to two things.
The survival genre is soooo so vast that when folks onboard with a title that handles more like an RPG or MMO-lite than a survival game, like Valheim, there can be an abrupt awakening when trying a survival game with “two-dimensional” mechanics. Impactful mechanics or choices can dictate if you flourish or flounder. Versus the basic premise of “run around and try not to get killed by mobs,” like in Super Mario, any MMO, or most games.
Frequently in those RPG / MMO styles’ survival’ titles, there’s a lot more handholding or explanation of mechanics. The item you need might glow or have an icon; it’s pointed out how to progress with an item or task from A-B-C; items or mechanics often feel one-dimensional. I find that in survival titles, you usually can find the answer to a problem by thinking of the situation in a real-life fashion. “I need water. Can I craft something to catch rainwater, or is there a standing body of water somewhere? I doubt it’s intended to DRINK OCEAN WATER, so let me look around. Ah, I found a pond; I’ll risk drinking and see if I get sick.” In some games, you’re given a crafting menu/book right off the bat and can browse through it and see shit like “PRETTY FLOWER TEA. CURES DYSENTERY FROM DRINKING DIRTY WATER”. I mean, you get the idea.
The central game premise of VIBE WITH NATURE ends up dictating how mechanics & interactions in the game are handled. You can only surface mine, forage, hunt, and gather for supplies. No cutting down of trees. No disruptive behaviors towards the land at all. Additionally, even though you use a weapon to slay animals, there's no butchering/processing of the carcass. Instead, you use a feature called Quantum Control to basically...I dunno. Futuristic hand vibe USE THE FORCE point and make things happen. You hand vibe dead carcasses, ore - hell, you even hand vibe to start the fire. The in-game building follows the same setup- with player-built structural items just vibing [I know it doesn't quite work in this sentence, but I like it, so roll with me] into being if you happen to have the blueprint unlocked and the materials on hand. If you have some Subnautica time under your belt- or you've been following along with Forever Skies previews- you're probably already OK with some "futuristic technology means I can do thisThe EASY FANCY."
For me, the lackfriction between the end result (gathering meat, gathering ore, starting a fire, building) disconnected me from the entire experience. There's a visceral component to many bushcraft survival games- the grit and effort to source & gather materials, make the item/tool, and utilize it to claw your way up a progressive chain of items/resources/etc. Don't get me wrong, it's meant to be both a natural balance/harmony and a more relaxed direction for survival, but [for me/DRINK] it ended up taking away from any feeling of needing to put in the effort to exist.
The meditation mechanics were created in collaboration with licensed mental health specialists and offered the chance to learn breathing exercises and participate in guided meditations IRL. It's not a token mechanic meant to help the game stand out in a sea of survival titles but a necessary component to gameplay progression and survival. Many games handle building & crafting by searching out blueprints, having a handy guidebook, or unlocking recipes solely based on ingredient acquisition. In Enen, you rely on completing golden-domed meditation points located within scattered ruins to open varied recipes. Additionally, the developer stated in Discord that there is a meditation mode in the pipeline where you gather, build, and meditate- no survival mechanics are required. That would likely drop in 2023, assuming it isn't scrapped along the way.
Meditation in Enen is something you must pay attention to. Meditating refills your spirit meter- the resource bar by which you can utilize Quantum Control, AKA spirit vibe hand- and a low spirit meter will lead to death. Or, as it's called in Enen lingo, "medical extraction." I wouldn't mind this feature less if it were more relaxed. The blue dome meditation points can be quickly utilized; you pop in, hit your button, and BREATHE ALONG with the animated gif as your bar refills and is DONE. The golden domes are an entirely different story. They last FOREVER. (Okay, maybe it's 30 seconds, but it felt like forever to me.) You must take advantage of them. You have to listen to a guided meditation that came across, to me, as incredibly stilted. And in all fairness, I asked my wife to listen to the meditation since meditation/yoga/etc. are her jam, and she was basically like, "...I've heard so much better". It seemed like an extra layer that I didn't personally click with- if I wanted guided meditation, I'd like some agency in choosing the type I experience- maybe voice options, pacing, or yanno, the option to skip it entirely.
So you're probably thinking, "geez Jordan, why'd you tell me I should play the game and then basically write about all the shit you didn't like"?
Fair point, grasshopper! Honestly- as with any upcoming game not made by a AAA studio with gorgeous visuals- people are falling all over themselves to gush about how amazing it will be or how excited they are for it to arrive. And that sentiment has only grown since the demo was launched because the game is gorgeous and has a lot of attention to detail. Folks that enjoy building maybe love the game hardcore- all of the building fun of other survival titles but far less dangerous. The game's launch will see the addition of two more biomes - both 2-3 times the size of the biome we have experienced thus far- plus wolves & bears, which provide another layer of danger beyond the snakes already in the game. [Which are easy to ignore if you're used to ignoring ground-based dangers like snakes & scorpions from other titles.]
It would be best if you tried it. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if my wife got it- and she's not even into the genre. It will be different from the specific itch I have when I look for a survival or bushcraft survival title- or a title with survival mechanism depth & difficulty. And that's OK! Not every game has to be Green Hell's King of the Jungle or The Long Dark's Interloper. Any gameplay criticisms I had either were resolved by the developer (like not being able to access the menu while in an active game, which will be changed) or they're quirky things that bug me personally. Like how the spear is carried across the body, the GRUNTING noise as you strike, etc. I actually thought the "combat" - i.e., stabbing an animal - was very clunky and felt like nothing was happening.
In the end, if you're coming to Enen for relaxation and meditation - you may not be disappointed.